Just on the oil sands and East-West relations issue...
NO ONE thinks we should back down from this fight. EVERYONE is concerned with winning this fight. So how do we win?
We're trying to move the Overton Window on every issue, to make our views seem more reasonable and make Conservatives seem more extreme. The debate over taxes is a fair comparison.
By the time the 1990s rolled around, the media was beating a steady drum in favor of tax cuts and welfare reform. Just to defend the social safety net and ask for taxes to remain the same was considered bold leftward opposition, if not outright extremism. Jack Layton came along in 2003 and began to parse the issue: maybe the public would accept "no new taxes, and roll back taxes to previous rates for corporations". At the time, it was a minority position. But it's become more sensible as people hate the idea of "corporate welfare" (an unintended side effect of making welfare a dirty word). By 2004 and 2008, even our U.S. counterparts were talking about selectively raising corporate taxes. Now, with the occupy movement in full force, inequality is back on the agenda. The idea of outright increasing taxes on the wealthy is seen as a reasonable position to take. If Barack Obama is for it (and if Warren Buffet is for it), then higher taxes can't be all that radical, can it?
I'm crossing my fingers that Mulcair has done the same strategic calculus on the tar sands.
The environment wasn't really a top-of-mind issue in the 1990s. By 2003, Mulcair took his appointment as a Provincial Minister of the Environment, and made it his issue. Then, Al Gore's movie came out, and it undeniably made a lot of people more concerned about the environment. (I can even say that it made me care about the environment more than I had ever before, considering that my top priorities were poverty and race issues, not to mention the surge in U.S. imperialism under George Bush.) Now the Tar Sands have undergone massive development, and it's literally a WORLDWIDE controversy right in our backyard. There's huge international pressure to slow down the tar sands (if not outright stop it). Even in the U.S. there was enough resistance to the tar sands that Obama at least postponed the decision on the Keystone Pipeline. I'm not optimistic that he'll come down on the environment's side in 2003, but at least it shows that public opinion IS moving on this issue.
So what's Mulcair doing? He's trying to persuade those last few people caught in the middle. He'll NEVER get the oil companies on his side, let alone most of the people who work for oil companies. But there are a lot of people who say "yeah, the oil sands do a lot of damage... but we need the money, and it's good for Canada, right?" Mulcair is saying "actually, not only is it bad for the envionment... but for most people in all other sectors of the economy, it's hurting you too."
The key to winning this argument IS to avoid the regional framing. This wasn't a regional attack, but Conservatives will want to make it one, to make Mulcair seem "divisive" and "unfit to lead". This HAS to be framed from east-vs-west to oil companies vs everyone else. And a big part of that, IMO, is pointing to the fact that it's foreign companies who are benefiting the most.